A child's first birthday is truly special: it’s a celebration of getting through that first year of being their Mum and Dad, a massive milestone for us as well as them.
While I was pregnant, I was lucky to meet a group of Mums who were due at the same time as me and I have felt so proud to see each of their little ones celebrate their first and second birthdays.
Inevitably, our minds drift back to the day they were born and we retell the story to all who will listen. But we don't often get to hear the tale from 'Dad's point of view'. My friend Nicola's husband is going to help me change that, as he recalls the journey to fatherhood here for us:
Isabella, who is now two, was born after a very short labour. We had been told it would be very difficult for us to get pregnant, so when that strip changed colour it was both a relief and a shock. We’d found ourselves parents-to-be within weeks of starting to try.
The following weeks and months were like a crash course on the world of child rearing, we navigating through a maze of baby-ness: from finding the right pram (who knew a pram is not just a pram to push a baby in? Noooooo, they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with this or that feature!) to learning at what direction, temperature and angle a baby should sleep.
We made sure we had everything in the house that a baby will need, or might need, or someone might think it will need. Because we didn’t have a clue!
Nine months seemed to fly by, but was I feeling more prepared? Not really! Did I know what I was getting into? Probably not! Was I looking forward to it? Despite all of the scariness… I actually was.
I was at work when the telephone call came, well actually it was a text message:
“I think my waters broke… and the sofa is all covered in it.”
She hadn’t called in a panic and I thought that must be a good sign. I quickly handed over at work and headed home, a million thoughts were going through my mind. Most of which I can’t totally recollect, just fragments of a mind in overdrive: excitement, fear and expectation…
Most of all, I was just hoping I would be up to the task of being there for Nicky when she needed me and be able to support her through the unknown that was about to fall upon us. Don’t forget the hospital bag, I told myself. Don’t forget the baby car seat, don’t forget the change for parking… ah and don’t forget the mum-to-be.
Coming home, there was no sign of flooding on the sofa and I find a very amused Nicky telling me that her waters breaking was ‘just like in the movies’: “One minute I was minding my own business, the next… swooooosh….ummm… how am I going to clean this?”
After a minute spent laughing to ourselves at our own expense, we headed to the hospital. Our bags ready, or at least we hoped they were, all things the 101 online lists told us we needed. So in the boot we had a ‘mummy hospital bag’, ‘a daddy hospital bag’, ‘a baby hospital bag’ and a ‘back up hospital bag’ – in case it was a long stay.
We had all we could possibly need, expect for experience, confidence and knowing what to actually do with a baby! There I was driving down to the hospital, wanting to get there as soon as possible but daring not to go too fast in case I shook my partner who was ready to explode.
When we arrived, with bag #1 in one hand and my near-to-burst partner on the other, we went straight past the reception and onto the examination room. I vaguely remember the midwife saying… dilated… centimetres… call… contractions… pain… you can go back home… What!?
“How do we know it’s a contraction?”
“You will know” was the answer… not very helpful (in my humble opinion).
So there I went again, bag #1 in one hand, partner on the other – back to the car and to our house. Reassured we weren’t in imminent labour, but none the wiser as to how we would recognise when we were.
Now was the time for me to feel useless and frustrated. It’s the feeling you get when you see your partner in pain and there isn’t much you can do, other than just be there.
6:00pm I’m unpacking the tens machine.
6:15pm I’m accidentally zapping myself.
6:16pm I’m wondering how the f*** this will help with the pain…
6:20pm I’m keeping my thoughts to myself and strapping the damn contraption to mum-to-be’s back.
From this point it was all about waiting and wondering, waiting and guessing when it would be time again to pick up the bags and drive down the same road to the hospital.
“Was that a contraction?”“
Was that a contraction?”
“Was that a contraction?”
It was my favourite sentence over the next few hours, a response to my partner’s painful moans. In my useless way, I was try to be useful and time the supposed contractions with my phone app.
The next 6 hours passed by, between runs to the kitchen to get water, timing the supposed contractions that stubbornly refused to fit in with the expected duration and, later, runs to the bedroom for underwear to deal with other types of runs! By this time we thought it must be time to call the maternity ward again and, after speaking with Nicky, they gave the go-ahead for us to return.
With bag #1 in one hand, partner in the other and a tail of tens machine wires escaping from her pyjamas – off we went again. Following a waddling mum-to-be to the elevator, I tried my best to carry our faithful hospital bag, balance the wires and tens machine and try to keep my emotions of excitement and fear in check.
I had an ever present sense of pride and amazement as to how Nicky was handling the situation: so bravely and seemingly in control, even though she might not have realised it at the time.
Despite all the excitement and optimism, fear was a dark shadow always hovering in the background.
Fear that in the final step something could go wrong. Fear that something would go wrong in labour.
Fear the baby would not survive and we would become grieving parents.
Fear the mum and baby wouldn’t survive and I’d become a grieving parent and partner. Fear that only the mum wouldn’t survive and I would become a grieving, single dad with a new-born baby to raise.
All stupid fears were brushed aside and excitement was brought back to the fore as we were moved to the maternity ward.
We enter our room, simple with a single bed and a window. A far cry from the big rooms with birthing balls, water pools and lots of space we went to visit before, but to which there was now no time to get to.
“Do you want to lie on the bed or stand?” the midwife asked Nicky who, between contractions, just looked at me. “What do I want?”
This was now my part to be helpful, “she doesn’t want to lie on the bed”. I had heard so many times from Nicky after her birth classes that this was the worst possible position for a quick birth.
There she was holding the side of the bed, me next to her giving her sips of water and the midwife kneeling between her legs looking up, one hand holding a cloth against Nicky’s bum. Even in that moment, I could not help but wonder if they teach that to all novice midwives… or do they learn that trick after a bad experience?
The next few minutes flew by and what I feared would be a gruesome experience was a wonderful one after all. Even amid all the blood and other fluids, the moment that head started to show to the world was indeed a unique and beautiful moment, I’m very glad I didn’t miss it and was there on my knees to see her come out.
I was also so proud of Nicky, who did all the hard work with no pain relief and was still standing, with shaky legs and a pale face by the time it was over.
It was 4:30am when for the first time, after cutting the cord, I held my daughter in my arms. With my partner next to me and the sun rising behind us, just about visible from the only window in the room.
It was a new day and a new life from now on, but we were all together… one family.
Finally, lying on the bed, Nicky smiles to the midwife and asks, “I’m sorry, I never asked your name?”
“My name is Jackie.” Nicky smiled, “that’s my mum’s name!”
This blog was first published in September 2017, I have updated a few little parts!